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Man Tiger: A Novel by Eka Kurniawan
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Man Tiger: A Novel (2004)

by Eka Kurniawan

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"It wasn't me. There is a tiger inside my body"
By sally tarbox on 30 March 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
There are two halves to this novel: it opens with a murder - local youth Margio has killed a neighbour by biting him. There seems to explanation - Margio was dating the victim's daughter and relations appeared cordial. But for some time his sister has been aware of an inner fury in the boy:

"That was when Mameh caught sight of a reddish, spectral face, apparently covered in fur, a yellowish glint in its eyes. She heard an echoing roar and saw a white shadow dance in its pupils. She almost screamed before it disappeared again, settled behind a cage door that seemed to be shut tight. Margio had confined it, suppressed its savagery."

So far so magic-realism. But the second part is much more of a family tale, explaining the dysfunctional and poverty stricken home that Margio comes from, with violence and abuse a regular feature. And it comes to seem that the 'tiger' is perhaps a quite understandable rage in the boy at the difficulties his parents have brought on him...

Set against village life on the Indonesian coast, this was an extremely enjoyable and unusual read. ( )
  starbox | Mar 29, 2017 |
This dreamy, meandering novel is written around a murder in a quiet Indonesian village, a crime whose victim and perpetrator are both given away in the opening sentence. Darting backwards and forwards in great swirls of flashbacks and foreshadowings, the story fills in the connections between the two characters and their families, gradually building up a kind of pointillist image of the town and the various tensions that led to the killing.

The young man at the centre of the book is possessed by the spirit of a white tigress, and this flash of ‘magic-realism’ (a label I've always found rather irritating) has led some reviewers and blurbers to make hasty comparisons with García Márquez or even Rushdie. Actually this has nowhere near the same level of complexity or linguistic dexterity (at least in translation); but anyway, the magic realism angle seems to be a bit of a red herring, since the main value here is not in the fantasy elements but rather in the naturalistic portrait of Indonesian village life, a life of boar hunts with wild dogs, snakes in the allamanda trees, prayers in the surau, cockfights in the ruins of an abandoned railway station, and the quiet desperation of families running on routine domestic violence.

What the novel illustrates, through its very sensitive portrayal of the two central families, is the way that violence within a family can scale up to violence within a community. For those with a little knowledge of Indonesian history, there may be an implicit invitation to scale up again, and make a connection with violence within the country as a whole. (Though politics is not mentioned directly, the region's history is present in various fossilised elements within the story, like the rusted samurai sword left over from the Japanese occupation that's being dragged around by the protagonist in the opening chapter.)

The English translation from Labodalih Sembiring is excellent and reads extremely naturally, despite the fact that the world it describes is often quite an alien one. But the underlying emotions are as familiar as ever, and Kurniawan has found some beautiful new ways to get at the same old bittersweet wisdom: ‘All that remained was a precious lesson that love causes pain, and the conviction that it couldn't be otherwise.’ ( )
  Widsith | Feb 4, 2017 |
Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan is a murder mystery (sorta) wrapped up in a mystical tale.

This is one of those books that likely don't translate easily. I have a friend who read the original and when we discussed it it seemed like we had read different books. The elements are all here and the story is still compelling but to really capture a sense of magical realism the reader has to try to feel as much as read the story. I'm not sure how possible that truly is without having some outside input (in my case, my friend) to offer some insight.

Having said all that I do still think this is a worthwhile read. The descriptions are quite good and the story still works, just with what seems to be repetition.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | Sep 13, 2016 |
Trigger warning: rape

There’s not a whole lot I like about Man Tiger. When you get right down to it, the only element I find intriguing is the structure. Maybe it’s just too literary for me?

Man Tiger starts with a revelation that shakes a small, rural Indonesian community: Margio, a local youth, has murdered his neighbor Anwar Sadat. Instead of moving forward in a linear fashion, Man Tiger instead turns back in on itself, meandering through the past to explain everything that led to the murder.

There is an element of the supernatural to Man Tiger – a female white tiger lives inside of Margio, and he claims it is she who committed the crime. However, Man Tiger is less fantasy and more magical realism. The supernatural elements play only a small role in the story, and the white tiger is more symbolic than anything else.

The opening of the book made it look like it wouldn’t be involving female characters at all, but that turned out not to be the case. As the story moves on, the narrative focuses quite a bit on Margio’s mother and sister. However, I still feel like there was an odd amount of focus on the female characters breasts (what’s with repeatedly calling a young girl’s breasts “unripe”?). In this case, it could be an issue of the translation, but it was still enough to make me roll my eyes.

The narrative of Man Tiger feels peculiarly detached. As a stylistic choice, it’s not my favorite. I prefer to get immersed in the narrative and emotions of the events. Man Tiger also ended up feeling tangential and bloated, despite being only a hundred and seventy pages long.

I suspect that Man Tiger is aimed at a very different sort of reader than me. I’m sure it’s brimming with literary merit, but it reminded me more of a lackluster English class assignment than anything else.

The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Jun 11, 2016 |
Story of two families living in a small Indonesian coastal town whose lives are blighted by domestic violence. Long-listed for the International Man Booker Prize 2016, this is a short novel detailing the events lending up to a brutal murder. Involving story; the violence is described in stark matter of fact way which is tough to read - as it should be.
The book is set in the present ( 1st published in 2004: translated into English in 2015) so Benedict Anderson's introduction is very helpful in explaining the political and financial situation of Indonesian. ( )
  si | Apr 29, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eka Kurniawanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Heinschke, MartinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martignoni, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Naveau, EtienneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sembiring, LabodalihTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the evening Margio killed Anwar Sadat, Kyai Jahro was blissfully busy with his fishpond.
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A wry, affecting tale set in a small town on the Indonesian coast, Man Tiger tells the story of 2 interlinked and tormented families and of Margio, a young man ordinary in all particulars cexcept that he conceals within himself a supernatural female white tiger. The inequities and betrayals of family life coalesce around and torment this magical being. An explosive act of violence follows and its mysterious cause is unravelled as events progress toward a heartbreaking revelation.
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